Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The "Native Star"

As the Stateside church prepares to celebrate the elevation of another of its own to sainthood come fall, it's worth noting that today's the feast of the lone Native American on the path to canonization: Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha (1656-80), the orphaned "Lily of the Mohawks" whose legacy of contagious zeal amid illness and the scorn of her own did much to grow the church's outreach to the native communities.

Baptized at 20 against her family's wishes, Bl Kateri spent her days caring for the aged and sick after a smallpox epidemic when she was four led to the deaths of her brother and both parents and struck the young girl, leaving pockmarks that were said to have vanished at her death, and a loss of sight that remained for the rest of her life. From the accounts of her life available today, what invariably floats to the top is the sterling witness that is the standard fare of the saints: the Eucharist was her treasure, prayer was her strength; penance, her purification, and joy, her hallmark.

Beatified in 1980 by Pope John Paul II, Kateri has come to further prominence thanks to her adoption as patroness of ecology and the environment. Prayers for her canonization abound, and after its annual pre-feast powwow celebrating native spirituality and culture, her main shrine at Fonda, New York is hosting a simple Mass today.

On 11 October, the Pope will canonize Bl Damien deVeuster -- the Belgian-born "Leper Priest" of the Hawaiian colony of Molokai -- at the Vatican, while in Baltimore, a local process was recently opened to investigate a potential final miracle attributed to the intercession of the 19th century Redemptorist Bl Francis Xavier Seelos (1819-67).

All told, US Catholicism can boast of nine saints and five blesseds.